How To Successfully Onboard Employees Remotely

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Do you remember the night before your first day at work? You were probably a bag of mixed emotions. On one hand,  you’re happy and excited to have a job and have a stable source of income every month. On the other hand, you’re also nervous, anxious, and to a certain extent, fearful because it’s a new environment with new people, new responsibilities, and new challenges. It’s a good thing that your new employer has an onboarding program to help you secure a solid footing and prepare you for the days ahead.

The emotional rollercoaster you went through? Remote employees go through the same thing the night before their first day at work. Whether it’s a virtual or brick-and-mortar workplace, an employee needs to be oriented properly to get off to a good start. This is why having an onboarding program in place is so important. 

However, onboarding a remote employee has its own unique set of challenges that make it all the more important to come up with a program that directly addresses these issues. 

The Challenge Of Onboarding Remote Employees

In a brick-and-mortar environment, an employee is onboarded with an orientation that’s conducted by the Human Resources department. Some companies have a dedicated onboarding team consisting of a Lead Trainor and a few assistants. 

The Lead Trainor talks about the history of the company, its culture, the organizational mission vision, and its goals and objectives for the year. Then, an HR Officer spends an hour discussing the employee handbook and policies on personnel management. 

New employees are given hard copies of the employee manual and the company’s rules and regulations. The floor will be open for the trainers to take questions from the attendees. 

Over the next few days, the new hires will undergo training that is specific to their position. They will be oriented on the company’s technological profile and be given a rundown on the policies on payroll and benefits. 

In some onboarding programs, HR will include group work where the new employees will get to collaborate with others to accomplish tasks. 

At the end of the onboarding process, usually, the President or CEO of the company will welcome the new employees on board the organization.

Believe it or not, this exact process can be used to onboard remote employees. Orientation and training can be done through audio-video conferencing platforms such as Zoom, MS Teams, and WebEx. 

Specialized training and group work can be run via collaborative software programs like Asana and Salesforce.

The biggest challenge of onboarding remote employees lies in establishing a strong and personal connection. 

Top 7 Tips On How To Successfully Onboard Remote Employees

Recall the time you started your first day as a remote employee. It felt strange, right? 

When you worked in an office, you were the first one out the door in order to beat traffic. Now, you wake up to an empty house. The kids are in school and the spouse is either at work or at the grocery. 

You actually have time to smell and enjoy your coffee! 

As you enter your home office, there’s a feeling of uneasiness because there’s no co-worker to be found. You’re on your own. The room is eerily quiet. Getting to your first task takes time. 

If you recall, this was how it was like for the first few days or weeks. It takes time to get used to a work-from-home routine. During the period of adjustment, you probably went through emotional ups and downs. 

Your experience is pretty much the same as almost everyone who becomes a remote employee. It takes time to get used to the arrangement and the work from home environment. 

You’ll need to prepare your remote employee to anticipate what lies ahead. A big part of the remote onboarding process is to help the employee adjust his mindset and perspective of the new environment moving forward.

1. Establish the Groundwork for Strong Relationships

The first area that you should focus on is establishing strong relationships with your remote employees. You have to let them know that although they’re working remotely, they’re not alone and have people they can contact for assistance and counseling.

Make them feel they’re part of the family.

  • Get someone who has experience as a remote employee for the company. He can share his experiences and answer any questions from the remote team. 
  • Send the remote employee a care package made up of the company’s products plus pictures, cards, and other items he can put up to give the home office a feel of a traditional office environment. 
  • It seems outdated but having each remote employee introduce and say something about himself remains a great way to break the ice and develop relationships with other employees. 
  • Bring in the other key members of the company, both working on-site and remotely and give them the opportunity to introduce themselves.

Keep the discussions light and conversational. Don’t get into the business side of things. This is all about establishing strong, solid relationships with everyone and that means engaging as people not as employees. 

2. Introduce the Company Culture

Once everyone is comfortable, you can switch gears and talk about company culture. It’s important to let your remote employees know how things are done in the company. Learning all about company culture will help them make the right decisions. 

So what is company culture? 

Company culture refers to the values, purpose, and vision that are shared by everyone in the organization. For the company to succeed, everyone – no exception – subscribes to the values that drive the purpose and direct the vision of the company. 

Put it this way, if the company was a boat, everyone must be paddling in the same direction and under the same cadence. It only takes a few people rowing in a different direction and cadence to make the boat go around in circles. 

It doesn’t mean that everyone needs to share the exact same values. At the very least, they should acknowledge and respect them as the guiding principles when performing their duties and responsibilities. 

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3. Define Expectations; Set Goals and Align With Your Vision

Let your remote employees know the company’s grand vision – where it wants to be after the next 100 days. Make it clear how the remote employee’s duties and responsibilities can help contribute to the realization of this grand vision. 

Knowing what the company’s goals are will help the remote employees prioritize their tasks. They’ll be guided by what your company wants to accomplish in 100 days and plan their days accordingly. 

For example, if your goal is to generate a 40% increase in new customers, remote employees who are handling sales will prioritize prospects who are further along the sales funnel. 

There won’t be much guesswork. Your team of remote employees will be guided by your goals when preparing the work day’s schedule. They’ll save time and get to work right away so you can get a few quick wins that will bring you closer to the big prize. 

4. Create Online Versions of Manuals and Handbooks

A successful onboarding process will leave your remote employees feeling more confident and excited about the days ahead. But there will be days when questions will arise about work or they might be looking for answers to situations that took place during the normal course of business. 

Cover all the bases by having online versions of the company manuals and handbooks available online. This reduces the risk of misunderstandings and helps clear the mind of the remote employee. 

Sure, you can send them hard copies of the manuals and handbooks but having online versions is more cost-effective and efficient. They can simply click on the file and find the answers they are looking for. No need to contact HR unless there are clarifications. 

Make sure the online versions are stored in a secure location and are accessible only by authorized personnel. It’s perfectly fine if the online copies can be downloaded and printed out. 

5. Provide Online Consultation and Training Programs

Tracking the performance of your remote employees so you can identify areas in the job where they’re struggling. After analyzing their performance metrics, it would be a good idea to provide consultation sessions as a way of giving constructive feedback. 

There will be situations where the reason for the decline in performance has nothing to do with an employee’s skills, knowledge, and expertise. Sometimes poor performance can be linked to what happens outside the workplace. 

A longstanding criticism of work-from-home arrangements is that it exposes the employee to distractions from home. The employee becomes accessible to everyone in the household – from family to friends to creditors. 

If there are persistent problems at home, these issues could carry over to the home office and affect the employee’s performance. In the office, he might have access to an EAP – Employee Assistance Program – a benefit where workplace issues are resolved by trained professionals. 

You can have an EAP or something similar available online. An employee can book an online appointment with an in-house counselor or Psychologist to help him work through these issues. 

If the primary factor in the decline in performance is a lack of skills, you can schedule training sessions online. You could make it similar to a classroom setting or via one-on-one consultation. 

6. Make Your Remote Workers “Feel at Home”

One of the perks of working remotely is that you get to see the faces of your loved ones every day. However, when it comes to work, not seeing the faces of co-workers might create a sense of isolation – of not being part of the organization. 

Think about your own experience. Going from your residence to the office feels you just got transported to a different world. The faces, the conversations, the entire vibe is different. 

Oftentimes, this feeling of isolation leads to loneliness and in cases, emotional distress that can affect overall work performance. You can resolve the situation by making the home-based remote employee “feel at home”:

  • Set up company paraphernalia around the home office. 
  • Arrange a coffee time session where anyone and everyone can join in, have a cup of coffee, and chill out with the rest of the team for a few minutes. 
  • Create more opportunities for group collaboration. 

Check in with your remote employee once in a while. Don’t use the time to micro-manage his work. Instead, find out how he’s doing, if there’s something he needs or wants to talk about. 

As we’ve said throughout this article, make your remote employee feel that he belongs. 

7. Invest In An Employee’s Login Portal

Companies such as Target, Walmart, Burger King, and McDonald’s have invested in online portals where their employees can access information about payroll, benefits, insurance, work schedules, and updates.

These employee login portals make it easier for all company personnel to find information without having to contact Human Resources, Accounting or their immediate supervisor. 

For HR and Accounting, it makes their jobs easier because they don’t have to be tied down responding to employee inquiries about their salaries, benefits, and taxes. 

You can set up a similar portal for your employees. Not only is information available at their fingertips but they can also sign up for training programs, go through specific skill modules, and access references to improve their performance.

Conclusion

Do you remember the saying “It’s not how you start, it’s how you finish”? When it comes to managing remote employees, the saying should be tweaked to read “How you start will determine how you’ll finish.”

To ensure a successful remote worker program, you have to get your remote employees to start on the right foot. And the first step starts with their head – where their minds are at before Day #1 as a remote employee. 

A purposeful, holistic onboarding program that covers the development of both hard and soft skills can get this done for you. Always keep in mind that even with the latest and best technologies in place, it’s still people running your business. 

Even though there are miles of distance between you and the remote employee, reach out to them and make sure they feel that they belong in your organization. 

If our suggestion of investing in an online portal for your business resonated with you, give us a call. Let’s have a talk so we can find out what your business needs.

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